Editor’s Note: with the original publication that this article was posted on set for imminent extinction, we brought this post over to The Sports Bank before it gets deleted. It originally ran in April. of 2019, but we have updated it to make current for present day.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation (and then South Bend Mayor) Pete Buttigieg isn’t the first nationally relevant (and totally un-classifiable) political figure to live and work in South Bend, Indiana. Hesburgh, a new documentary opening at the Music Box Theatre on Saturday, chronicles the life of long-time University of Notre Dame President and America’s all-time most well-known priest—Rev. Theodore Hesburgh. Colloquially known as “Father Ted,” Hesburgh was a lot like “Mayor Pete,” a South Bend political figure driven by faith, ideals and a motivation to always do what is right above what is currently politically viable.
Both men are/were complex, and that’s what makes them interesting.
Hesburgh is a long, over-arching film, and that’s why we needed a second review article (this first is over at this link) to cover the material. It makes sense that extra space is required as Father Ted was one of the most influential American political figures of the second half of the 20th century.
Hesburgh profiles the life of long-time president of the University of Notre Dame and America’s most well-known priest—Rev. Theodore Hesburgh. Director and Notre Dame alumni Patrick Creadon on Saturday, April 27, after the 2pm & 7pm showings at the Music Box.
In addition, former Chicago Bear, Notre Dame All-American, and current Chicago State Athletic Director Chris Zorich will participate in a Q&A on Saturday after the 7pm showing.
The story of Hesburgh is told primarily via the means of a voice-over actor reading the man’s notes and letters. Hesburgh was one of the most important civil rights champions of his age, an advisor to presidents from Eisenhower to Obama, an envoy to popes, a theologian and activist, and a man called upon by countless world leaders to help deal with the most pressing issues of the day.
The film evokes Prince’s classic song “Pope” and its lyrics:
So, you can be the President (you can be the President) [kick it]
I’d rather be the Pope (rather be the Pope)
Hesburgh actually got the President to speak at a ND graduation, and the next pope to give the mass at the same ceremony. That’s how socially astute and well-connected he was.
Hesburgh, who was on this Earth for 98 years despite an affinity for steaks, bourbon and cigars, was asked (as the film conveys) if he’d rather be the President or a priest.
He didn’t hesitate one bit in stating that he’d choose to remain a friar. Through all that he accomplished, he remained a man with fierce intelligence, quick wit, and an unyielding moral compass. Watching Hesburgh is an edifying experience, it shows the viewer that Lyndon Baines Johnson was a cutthroat operator who blackmailed anybody who stood in his legislative way. LBJ had somebody on everyone, and if he didn’t, he called on J. Edgar Hoover to go get something.
The letters of Hesburgh describe JFK’s successor thusly: “ruthless in his pursuit, you don’t read about it in history books, but I know because I was there.”
There is so much more to get into that this film touches upon, but we simply don’t have the time This article could easily be 5,000 words long before you know it.
Commentators appearing on camera include Leon Panetta, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Koppel, Ara Parsegian and Alan Simpson. It’s an eclectic array or panelists, showcasing what a Renaissance man Hesburgh truly was.
In this hyper-polarized era, we really need a man like Father Ted who can appeal to both sides of the aisle. His legacy persists in many ways today, most ostensibly, the Hesburgh library at Notre Dame, which is most synonymous with the Touchdown Jesus mural on the side of it
Why do you think we pictured it several times, from multiple angles, here?
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and he co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast, part of Edge of the Crowd Network. Follow him and the website on Twitter and Instagram.